In attempting to snag coveted slots at elite city preschools, some parents have gone so far as to submit DVDs featuring their children at play, and résumés for their 2-year-olds and some preschool directors say they're fed up.
As admission season winds down for the year scores of nursery schools yesterday sent out their much awaited acceptance and rejection letters some school administrators say they don't like the over-the-top application process, and that spending thousands of dollars on preschool admissions advisers could backfire.
The admissions director of the Mandell School, Gabriella Rowe, told The New York Sun that the Upper West Side school received a couple of bespoke DVDs, and a handful of résumés, alongside preschool applications. "I won't watch the DVDs, and if I see a résumé, period, that's a huge black mark on a parent," she said. "I don't want to see a 14-month-old with a résumé of 30 activities, from language classes to cooking classes to science classes."
Ms. Rowe said she could tell when an admissions essay has been written by a preschool consultant. One telltale sign: "A disgustingly perfect entrance essay," written in a detached voice. "It's wonderful to hear, It's really cute how my daughter pushes her little cart down the hall,'" she said. "I don't want to hear about their Da Vinci class."
The director of West Side Montessori on West 92nd Street, Marlene Barron, said a lengthy résumé or a too slick application she once received a media kit describing a prospective family is distasteful. "A child should be able to live the life of a child," Ms. Barron said. "When we see this over-scheduling, we think, Is this the type of parent we want in our school?' We have choices."
When the director of the Church of the Epiphany Day School, Whendy Carter, receives the occasional toddler résumé, she doesn't necessarily rule out the applicant. "I almost think, They're probably not for us' we're very low-key but then I'll give them the benefit of he doubt. We have this simple, straightforward application. What is a résumé going to say? These are 2- and 3-year-olds."
There's a sense among preschool directors that children are being over-scheduled, and parents are being over-advised "on how to dress, what kinds of recommendation letters they'll need, and even what kind of stationery they should be writing their thank you notes," the head of school advisory services for the Parents League of New York, Cynthia Bing, said. The Parents League is a membership organization composed of more than 250 independent schools.
"Savvy, knowledgeable nursery school directors do have a sense that what they're seeing stiff and programmed," Ms. Bing said. "Their noses can be fairly good."
The author of "The Ivy Chronicles" (Viking, 2005), Karen Quinn, whose novel is based on her experience as a private school admissions counselor, said most consultants would discourage DVDs, resumes, or "any other kind of dog-and-pony show that's not likely to sit well with admissions directors."
Ms. Quinn, whose second novel hits bookstores next week, said she doubts that school officials could really tell which parents hired someone to guide them through the admissions process. "It's possible that if someone writes a really wonderful essay that they did get help with it, but this is New York and there are a lot of great writers in New York," she said.
The mother of a 2-year-old named Tyler, Adelina Wong Ettelson, sought out the guidance of other parents, but not an admissions consultant. Ms. Wong Ettelson is waiting to hear from five Upper East Side preschools, including All Souls School and Park Avenue Christian Church Day School. "I've definitely reached out to a network of people who have been through this before," Ms. Wong Ettleson said. "I think that's better than hiring someone, but we'll see where he gets in. I also think it's good to know parents at the school who can lobby the admissions director on your behalf, who can tell them what a great family you are."
Then there are some parents, decrying the cutthroat competition for nursery school seats, who are opting out of traditional preschool altogether enrolling their children in group classes until they turn 4 and can apply to a pre-kindergarten program at an ongoing school.
One father of a 2-year-old said his son would be taking courses at Citibabes, a private club in SoHo, until the youngster is ready for pre-kindergarten. "There's such a supply-and-demand imbalance," the Greenwich Village resident, who asked not to be identified, said. "It seems like the chances of getting into an Ivy League school or graduate program are better. You can't imagine the stress it creates for parents."
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How do we sum up our daughter in a brief essay? Toile entered this world four years ago, vaginally, absorbing the good microbes that allow her to be a nut-lover and not one of those children who has to go everywhere with an EpiPen. Our doula Salome said she had never witnessed “such a supple birth.” Our labor playlist featured Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” which we believe accounts for Toile’s near-perfect pitch as well as her extremely powerful diaphragm.
Every day with Toile is full of a thousand questions: “What’s the difference between Parma ham and prosciutto?” “Can I have a Hamilton birthday party?” “Mom, why did you go to PureBarre and Physique 57 today?” During her child-led, unstructured playtime on our drives to the Hamptons, she loves to ask our driver Hasaan all about how he rides his camels. He always tells her that not all people from Egypt ride camels and that he has lived in the United States for 27 years. It’s become a sweet little inside joke between them.
Our family celebrates diversity. Toile is just as happy to go to Forest School with Ivan, the son of that guy who owns the Nets as she is to play No Stress Chess with Saanvi, the daughter of a partner at McKinsey. For Halloween, she dressed as a fencer in a hijab! Our housekeeper is from Ecuador, and our dog groomer is some kind of mix. Arvin, the man who comes to blow out my hair every three days, is gay. Toile simply doesn’t see color or gayness.
Toile is generous. She loves giving donations to Raymond, our family Rolfer, who has a daughter about Toile’s age. “Gently used!” she exclaims, with the gratified gleam of a future philanthropist in her eye, as she thrusts a Citarella bag full of Jacadi at him. When we leave a restaurant, she always offers my leftover salad with dressing on the side to homeless people. At the nail salon, she tips 30%. At age 3.8, she spearheaded a fundraising auction for her nursery school, L’Ecole des Enfants des Parvenues and raised $42,000 by enrolling all the kids to get their parents to agree to a “Country Home Swap.” Our family had a fascinating time staying in the Poconos house of her little friend Aviva. We learned there’s a slippery slope from “rustic” to “ramshackle” (linoleum?!), but it gave us the chance to teach Toile, “À chacun son gout.” Or, as we like to say, “Not everyone’s country house has a mud room!”
Talk about innovative. Although we do not partake in the Jewish faith, Toile has created her own line of bespoke kippot on Etsy, using the locks of her little Jewish boy friends after their Upsherin ceremonies. She takes the fine hair that the boys’ mothers finally cut when they turn three and turns it into a paintbrush. Then she paints kippot in bright colors. Her work is quite fauvist! She calls her line “Up, Upsherin And Away,” demonstrating her ingenious skills at word play.
When we curated Toile through preimplantation genetic diagnosis, we knew we were getting an XX with overall chromosomal normalcy, but we could have never have predetermined her resilience! Toile has managed to embrace no fewer than seven nannies in four years, each of whom we consider part of our family until Toile accidentally calls one “Mommy.” When the nannies go back to the agency, our daughter never cries, she only asks to see Hamilton again. One of her favorite sayings is, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try again!” which is something she recently said to me when she found me sitting in my boudoir, staring at my framed Master in Public Policy degree, weeping.
Not least, it is with great pride that we report our daughter is already an activist. During our most recent safari in Kenya this past summer, Toile was made aware of the scourge of Female Genital Mutilation. I’m not sure why our room maid told her about it, and I’m still not sure if Toile understands what a clitoris is or does (I’m not sure her father does either, haha!), but Toile did tell her classmates about it at her Show & Share, using the African fertility doll we brought home. She left her teachers speechless with her maturity and consciousness-raising.
We love our daughter beyond the allotted word count for this essay. I often tell her she’s my reason for living, which is why I quit my job at a high-profile think tank in order to breastfeed her on demand. We have every confidence that she will self-wean before she starts kindergarten next fall.
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